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Make your Web site easier to understand

June 22nd, 2007 by tamuwebmaster

Part of developing a good usable site is organizing and conveying your information, links and visual cues in a way that makes sense for the end user. Here are some points that may help in that task.

  • Use consistent and parallel terminology. Be aware that one term can represent different kinds of information. For example, “Academics” is a section of its own on the Texas A&M Web site located at http://www.tamu.edu/home/academics/. But there’s also an “academics” section on the “Current Students” and “Staff” index pages. In each case, the term “academics” is being used consistently to describe the section even though each page contains links specified for each audience.

Also, don’t use different terms for the same topic on different pages. For example, if you have a section of your site that is a collection of departmental policies, select the appropriate words or phrase to describe it and use it on all pages that refer to that collection or page. Avoid calling it “Policies and Procedures” on the index page, and then call it “Rules & Regulations” or “Policy Information”. The same can be said for making your <title> tag the same as the text title on your page.

Another thing to consider is naming list items in a parallel structure. So if your topic areas are action-oriented like “finding programs”, “contacting experts”, “choosing major”, naming your support link “help” would not be parallel. Instead name it “getting help” in order to maintain the parallel organization.

  • Use descriptive and intuitive links. Link labels should match the title of the page that the link leads to. For example, when a user clicks on the “policies and procedures” link, they should be directed to a page entitled “Policies and Procedures” and not one entitled “Rules and Regulations” or “Information on Policies”. Similarly, if you are linking to a service offered by a department, link to that service page or description and not to the department’s home page.
  • Spell out all acronyms. Do not assume that users know what an acronym means, so the first time spell it out. For example, Instructional Technology Services (ITS), Information Technology in Science (ITS), and Information Technology Services (ITS) all exist at Texas A&M, so spelling it out is encouraged.
  • Label items logically and add descriptive notes as needed. If a term or a name of an office isn’t intuitive or explanatory, then make sure you provide a short description or details to provide clarification or identification. Consider removing “Office of” or “Department of” in front of names after the first mention to tighten up copy.
  • Avoid using only icons or graphics for information. While it can be argued that a “home” or a “shopping cart” icon may be universal in their meaning, others are not. Cryptic search or “go” buttons may confuse a search engine user, and random icons in navigation may keep visitors from finding the information they need. Plus, depending on the style or treatment of the icon, the icon’s meaning may become lost. If you choose to use an icon, consider using related text links to help educate the user toward your use of the icons.
Friday, June 22nd, 2007 Navigation, Site Architecture, Style Guide
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2 Comments to Make your Web site easier to understand

  1. All good tips, I have a site here that provides research on common naming conventions for navigation. Analysis of Navigational Links on Top 20 Home Pages – Part 1

  2. Matt Herzberger on June 22nd, 2007
  3. Title attributes are useful for providing a description (on hover) for acronyms, icons, and menu items whose meanings might be ambiguous. For example, on a “site map” link, I might include a title attribute to clarify that I mean a guide to the contents of my website, not a map of campus locations.

  4. Stephanie Leary on June 27th, 2007

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